Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Hero 6 [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Big Hero 6 [2014] (directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson and Jordon Roberts, story by Don Hall and Jordon Roberts, based on the comic by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagal) is a "Disney family"-produced "family friendly" animated "superhero" concoction of The Incredibles [2004] vein that, while "light", even "airy" (like the story's most memorable protagonist) will probably please.  (Note that Disney Corp. now owns Pixar, Marvel Comics and has had a collaborative relationship with the famed animation Studio Ghibli overseas in Japan.  The legacies of all three of these entities figure prominently in the film). 

What then to make of an aggressively "crowd pleasing" unabashedly "marshmellow" of a film almost certainly created as much by Disney Corp's marketing people as by its animators?   To some extent, I shake my head in disbelief, but then have to say that, borrowing from Disney World's legendary comercial tag-line, this film's creators did create "The happiest (Pixarish) partly sad (Marvellish) superhero movie on earth" ;-)   And IMHO, even as I continue to shake my head, though smiling from ear-to-ear as I do so, SOMEONE LIKE ME REALLY HAS TO APPLAUD THIS.

And I write this because considering so much of the hate-inculcating (White, preferably English-accented characters Good, All others generally Bad) messaging present in so many of the children's oriented animated released by American studios in recent years [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6], this is the fluffiest, happiest alternative to this quite nasty phenomenon that I've seen since starting my blog four years ago.

For the film, set in a futuristic seaside "San Fran-(T)okyo" complete with a Golden Gate bridge with Asian pagoda-like flourishes, is about a 13-year-old "wiz-kid" named Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) who despite obviously being brilliant (he's already completed high school) would prefer to use his technical skills designing robots for "bot fighting" (taking place in some seedy corners of a futuristic looking San Francisco Chinatown).  His older brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) convinces him to at least come to his "nerd school" (called the San Fran Institute of Technology) where Hiro gets to meet Tadashi's on-the-surface "nerdy" but actually quite "way cool" lab-mates.

Tadashi's lab-mates are a quite happily (and having previously "been there," - I was a PhD-student in Chemistry prior to entering the seminary - IMHO quite realistically) portrayed emphatically _multiracial_ bunch of fellow engineering students.  They include a darker-skinned, dreadlock wearing South Asian/African mix perhaps Jamaica/Trinidad-originating "laser-saw" specialist nick-named Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans, Jr), a more punkish/attitude carrying Asian student nicknamed "Go Go" (voiced by Jamie Chung) who's an expert on magneto-levitation, a sweet Caucasian chemistry/materials expert nicknamed Honey Lemon (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez) and a kindly skate-boarding American slacker (not even a student, but some-kind-of-a hanger-on) named Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller) who the others don't mind because he's harmless and actually comes up with "really cool ideas" / "nicknames" (like some of those above).  No one really knows where Fred's from but he does seem to "have the time to hang around" and again, he's generally fun.

Rounding out the main characters in Hiro and Tadashi's lives are "San Fran coffee-shop" operating "Aunt Cass" (voiced by Maya Rudolf) who's been looking after them since their parents (somewhat mysteriously) died, and Tadashi's Prof, the kindly Dr. Robert Callahan (voiced by James Cromwell).

Floored by the "coolness" of his older-brother's previously seeming "nerdy" friends, Hiro now wants "in" -- to join Tadashi's school -- and Dr. Callahan assures him that if he can come up with "something brilliant" for the school's annual "scientific showcase," then 13-14 or not, he'll be admitted.  So Hiro goes to work ...

While Hiro's working on his "way cool", "totally life as we know it changing" project, we get introduced to Tadashi's project as well -- AN UTTERLY NON-THREATENING INFLATABLE BALLOON SKINNED "Robotic Health Care Assistant" named Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) who, walking slowly and talking in a kindly, slow monotone voice, once "called up" _relentlessly_ 'takes care of' whoever he's called-up to take care of, until the person being 'taken care of' says the words: "I'm satisfied with my care," where-upon the giant, fluffy, utterly non-threatening robotic health care assistant _deflates_ and folds himself back into the nice "carrying case" in which he is to be stored until ... the next time he's called-up to take care of someone ;-).

He's a lovely, gentle, life-enhancing robotic assistant -- AND BOY COULD WE USE SEVERAL THOUSAND OF THEM TODAY, PERHAPS, TO SAFELY TREAT ALL THOSE PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM THE EBOLA OUTBREAK THESE DAYS -- but Hiro honestly doesn't know how to understand him.  After all, to Hiro, robots are for fighting, blowing things up, doing all sorts of things that are too dangerous (or violent) to use humans for... and here Baymax is _designed_ to take care of people in as non-threatening a way as possible.

Anyway, Hiro comes up with his "way cool" project, a swarm of micro-bots, which together can be used to create just about anything.  Professor Callahan is impressed and Hiro is admitted to the school.

THEN ... suddenly there's a fire at the lab.  Among those appear to die are ... Professor Callahan ... and Tadashi, who tries to save him.   Grief-stricken, Hiro now doesn't know what to do.  Engineering, doesn't seem fun to him again anymore, now that his older brother, who never hurt a fly, is dead.

YET ... there's the giant inflatable, marsh mellow-looking robotic Baymax, who's still programmed (by Hiro's older brother Tadashi) to "take care of" ... him ;-).  SO NOW THE REAL STORY CAN BEGIN ...

And as in a good "superhero-ish" "comic book-like" story, a number of things come to be revealed in the story that follows, including:  (1) who exactly is this amiable "skate boarding slacker" named Fred who just hangs around the engineering lab (there simply _had to have been_ a "back story" there ;-), and (2) who exactly was Professor Callahan and as well as his "more Evil" seeming (and perhaps Silicon Valley mogul inspired) brother going by the name of Alistair Krei (voiced by Alan Tudyk)?

Anyway, it makes for a lovely and often Pixar-like "poignant" / Marvel Comics-like "superhero" story.  And IMHO it generally works ;-)

If nothing else, honestly, this is a film that EVERYBODY can see without anybody coming to complain "Hey wait a minute, why is 'my kind' being portrayed (yet again) as a villain?" Gotta hand it to Disney, despite all the "shaking one's head" potential traps and cliches, they seem seem to have pulled this thing off.  Good job folks!  Good job! ;-)

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